] San Francisco, San Francisco … not “San Fran”, no, apparently not! I didn’t know that, I would’ve said “San Fran”, but you’d go, “No, we don’t like ‘San Fran’, fuck it!” Or what’s the other one you don’t like? Oh, “Frisco”! You don’t like that either. [audience hisses
] And you’re a city of snakes, I see! Hsss! …So you just call it [rolling eyes
] “The City”. Oh, right, “The City”. And Oakland’s just a collection of houses, is it?
I think the only thing we proved in our whistle stop tour of “The City” is that you can’t get a grip on any significantly large place if you are jet-lagged and have only 24 hours. We did, however, give it our best shot. Landing in San Francisco I was expecting the US customs to seize me on sight. Not that I have done anything, but I read enough on the news and blogs about TSA nightmares (such as arresting a guy for having a Mac Book Air – “That’s not a laptop!”) to expect the worst. In the end of course they just waved me through. I was almost incensed!
The ride into the city was performed on auto pilot, but I was awake enough to be amazed by the SanFran architecture, which is very eclectic. Flat roofed Mexican style houses blot the landscape and then give way to the standard American urge to build everything bigger. Large, tall, just like in the movies were the three things that ran through my mind.
A short walk later we were at the hostel. It is 2:30pm US time. God knows what time it is in London. Sleep took us and we wandered out of space and time so that each passing second was as like a lifetime on the Earth.
We wake. Food is needed, but first security. Struggling to pack our kit in the mandatory PacSafe wire mesh protectors was not fun. Clearly something you need to practice. Well, we have plenty of time for that. Neither Francesca or I even suggested leaving the packs “unmeshed”. It was not that the hostel was that dodgy but rather I believe it was we both could hear Arabella’s voice in our heads warning us with the dire arching tone of the older sister.
Food was best described as shit. I know the US love their pancakes, but to my English pallet it tasted like eating soft foam packing topped with sugar. Still, it filled a hole. It would have done equally well filling a mattress.
We ventured out into “The City” and at first glance I was underwhelmed to say the least.
San Francisco has that high sided building feel that you get in all US cities and which London rarely achieves, but it also has a very visible divide between those who have and have not. Beggars are everywhere and in all guises. Simply looking like you don’t know where you are, squinting at signposts for example, will have them swarming over you in packs all vying for the largest tip you can muster. I would like to say that I was able to resist, but one such likely fellow, a “veteran” he claimed – although of what war I couldn’t say; possibly the civil war, collared us and was very helpfull in pointing out the way, placing a good map in my hand, smiling and laughing about our journey from London and charging me a fiver. I hope the cash went some way to helping him buy a pair of trousers.
We visited the camera shop then STA travel (the guy in STA was a god-send and booked all our seats for the next 4 flights) and then headed onto the nearest cablecar and uptown towards Fisherman’s Wharf. This was more like it. The cablecar holds some sort of mystic charm that I couldn’t quite put my finger on, but was definitely affected by. Perhaps it was the banter of the driver, which was cool as mustard and obviously the musings of someone who has been driven mad by his job, or perhaps it is the quaint wooden feel and the low tech approach?
Nevertheless I really enjoyed my journey on what was an absolute 100 year old deathtrap and had me hanging on for dear life. Fisherman’s Wharf is nice if a little touristy. We wanted to buy some food from the market, crab being the speciality of the area, but on passing the very first restaurant my stomach grabbed hold of my legs and made me keel hard right. I didn’t realise how hungry I was until we had polished off two baskets of bread as we waited. Cecsa did the math. Apart from the mattress filling earlier we had not eaten for 24 hours. When they placed down the crab in front of me I just knew that I was going to shuck that little fucker for every single morsel of flesh I could get to. Cesca liked hers too.
Sated we started to enjoy ourselves and booked onto the mandatory cruise across the bay, under the bridge and around Alcatraz. Mark Twain once noted that the coldest winter he ever experienced was a summer in San Francisco. How right he was. It was bloody nippy, but we had a fantastic time. The commentary was all pre-recorded, which in England would have spelled disaster, but here in the land of Hollywood even dodgy little ferry journeys get the proper treatment. It was all very well done. The bridge was large and imposing, but not as large as I imagined.
Alcatraz was far most interesting and could only imagine how being an inmate on that island must have felt. The mainland is so close, it would be maddening. Everything you would want, freedom, people, conspicuous consumption – IE the American Dream, would have been just a short swim away. Past the machine guns, sharks and freezing cold waters. I wouldn’t have liked it much for sure, but the commentary suggested that, since the island held the worst of the worst, in fact being incarcerated on Alcatraz was somewhat of a badge of honour for the inmates. Something to brag about later on when comparing scars.
And so ended San Francisco. We headed back into town via a different route and then collected our bags and made our way back to the airport. Again I was waved through customs with barely a glance. I was almost looking forwards to the experience of being searched, which goes to show how tired I was, but hey maybe next time?
The Qantas plane was much nicer than the cramped BA one (at least in our class) and we soon began the 14 hour trot towards our next leg of this adventure! To Australia and beyond!
Tune in next time, same bat place, same bat channel.